Three things we learned from: The 2017 PAS muktamar

By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal
DAP and Amanah have repeatedly pushed Pakatan Harapan to cease efforts on PAS, and to focus on the parties that are already in the pact. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, May 3 — This year's PAS muktamar has come and gone, and with it, the Islamist party has outlined how it will position itself for the next general election.

Much like the two previous assemblies, delegates and leaders used the muktamar as a platform to send a clear message to the party as well as outsiders that it can and will survive on its own without any formal alliances.

Boosted yet again by the progress of their proposed amendments to increase the power of Shariah Courts via the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, which was read out in the Dewan Rakyat for the second time last month despite being a private member’s Bill, PAS leaders used the assembly to close ranks after a fractious two years for the party.

Here are the three takeaways from the 2017 PAS muktamar:

Ending ties with PKR and Pakatan Harapan

Demands for PAS to remain independent of any alliance with the two main political blocs dominated the debates at this year’s muktamar, with delegates demanding the Islamist party sever ties with PKR, its last link to the federal opposition coalition.

PAS delegates on Sunday approved the motion to end ties with PKR, which now leaves the matter up to the party's powerful Syura Council to decide.

The party also approved without debate a motion calling for it to contest all PKR seats if there is no electoral pact in place before the general election. This matter must also be decided by the Syura Council.

With PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang having already rejected Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia's (PPBM) recent overtures to join a “grand coalition” to fight Barisan Nasional in the next GE, the message from the Islamist party is clear: they want nothing to do with Pakatan Harapan.

“Basically the muktamar was used to convince sceptics within the party who still feel the need to work with opposition to think otherwise, reaffirming what they have been doing going into the muktamar,” Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia political analyst Dr Faisal Hazis told Malay Mail Online.

He said that PAS' insistence to increase the power of the Shariah Courts, coupled with its more conservative outlook after its progressive leaders quit the party to form Amanah, showed that it is no longer interested in garnering the support of non-Muslims and merely aims to maintain its rural Malay support base.

“By projecting a very inclusive message in the form of their negara berkebajikan (welfare state) in the last GE, the party was able to move from being a niche party to one which gained a lot of support from non-Muslims.

“But now, they are reversing their message from being centrist to one that is to the far right,” Faisal added.

This was evident during the debates of this year's muktamar, where PAS's Ulama wing submitted a motion to seek a constitutional amendment that would make it necessary for the prime minister to be a Muslim.

BN winning more seats in GE14

By going at it alone in the next general election, PAS will likely slug it out in multi-cornered seat fights against both BN and Pakatan Harapan.

Such a scenario will ultimately benefit BN, as the opposition parties will cannibalise each other’s support. This forecast is supported by research from firms such as Invoke, and that BN is set to win big if PAS goes against Pakatan Harapan parties.

“By going alone, in effect it means going with Umno. As they (PAS) will split opposition vote, benefiting Umno in a first-past-the-post electoral system.

“So I see this as affirming their split with the mainstream opposition. So if PAS doesn't unite with rest of opposition, then Umno wins almost be default, albeit with slim margins,” S Rajaratnam School of International Studies senior fellow Oh Ei Sun told Malay Mail Online.

In such a scenario, Oh believes that such an arrangement is beneficial for both PAS and Umno, whereby Umno wins in multi-cornered fights whereas PAS gets to hold power in one or two states in addition to Kelantan.

“Because PAS, I think, has this idea of building up pockets of shining examples of superior religious rule. They are parochial,” he said.

Another analyst, Ibrahim Suffian, believes that PAS will most likely end up with a handful of seats in the upper northeast corner of the peninsula, where their traditional support base is the strongest.

“It's likely that BN may even win back the two-thirds majority,” the Merdeka Center director told Malay Mail Online.

Will Pakatan keep control of Selangor?

One more issue moving forward from the weekend's muktamar is whether Pakatan Harapan will be able to retain its hold on Malaysia's wealthiest state should PAS follow through with ending all ties with PKR.

During the muktamar, it was decided that the central PAS leadership will have the final say on the posts in the Selangor administration should the party cut ties with PKR.

There are currently three PAS excos serving in a state government headed by PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali.

Pakatan Harapan parties currently controls 29 out of the 56 seats in the Selangor state legislative assembly, while PAS has 13. BN has 12. The remaining two seats are currently held by independent assemblymen.

“Without PAS, it may be difficult to keep the state in Pakatan hands. If PAS behaves as a hostile party and contests in PKR seats, it's very likely Umno can get back the state government,” Ibrahim said.

He said that it will be unlikely for Amanah or PPBM to be able to even the odds for Pakatan Harapan should PAS decide to work against them in Selangor.

* Syed Jaymal Zahiid contributed to this report.